Thursday, December 20, 2012

Academic Scandal at the University of North Carolina

Two independent, outside reports have been completed concerning the academic scandal in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina.  The reports are available here.  The problems are even more extensive than previously reported.

Here is a summary of the findings from the UNC Website: 

"Martin said that the problems uncovered were academic in nature rather than athletic. His key findings, based on reviewing courses taken by all UNC undergraduates between 1994 and 2012, included:

The anomalous courses discovered in African and Afro-American studies extended as far back as fall 1997.

The percentage of student-athletes enrolled in the anomalous course sections was consistent with the percentage of student-athletes enrolled in all courses offered by the department.

No academic misconduct or anomalies were found outside of African and Afro-American studies in other academic departments or units.

The same two people previously implicated were responsible:  Professor Julius Nyang’oro, who resigned as the department’s first chair and was forced to retire last July, and former department administrator Deborah Crowder, who retired in 2009.

The Martin report review team spent about four months examining 18 years (1994 to 2012; 68 academic terms) worth of academic data about all undergraduate classes at the University. The team reviewed 172,580 course sections and more than 4.6 million data elements. They interviewed more than 80 faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders and analyzed information previously reported through the internal reviews."

 The main report (here) identified 216 course sections with proven or potential anomalies.  The report also identified 454 potential unauthorized grade changes (changes without approval of the instructor of record).  Academic anomalies included: courses where students completed work and received grades without the course being supervised or graded by an instructor of record, courses that were designed to include regular classroom time and instructor contact but were offered with limited to no classroom or other instructional contact, irregularities with independent study courses , and related to temporary grades and unauthorized grade changes, either temporary or permanent, and submitted student grade rolls or change of grade forms that instructors of record do not remember having signed or approved.

As an alumnus of UNC, I am very disappointed.  Universities and their personnel should be serving as role models to their students.  UNC has failed miserably at this task.  How can we teach ethics and professional identity to students if our institutions and their personnel so blatantly break the rules? 

Chancellor Holden Thorp’s Opening Remarks UNC Board of Trustees Meeting December 20, 2012  (full remarks here) are also troubling: 

"Carolina has always been the most important institution in my life, and I know that’s true for many of you too. So I approach this day with a mix of sadness, anger… and hope.

Sadness because of the toll that this has taken on the University and the people who love it.

Anger because of the irresponsible actions of two people."

What bothers me about this statement is the focus on the actions of two people.  The problems at UNC could not have occurred without a total absence of academic oversight within the Department and from the central administration.  The Chancellor does add, " We made mistakes in the past. We were complacent. We didn’t ask the hard questions that we should have asked. And we didn’t live up to our reputation. We have to acknowledge that we had an environment in which we placed too much trust in people and not enough emphasis on having the systems in place that would have caught these issues."  However, this statement grossly understates UNC's responsibility to its students, its alumni, and the community.  The UNC administration should take full responsibility for its mistakes and wrongdoing, rather than making self-serving statements like the above.

I hope that other universities, including law schools, learn from my alma mater's mistakes.

(Scott Fruehwald)

For more on the problems at UNC see this article in the Raleigh News & Observer.

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